One night when I was a little girl, supposedly asleep in bed, my mum came in:
Why are you still awake?
I’m homesick and restless.
I had been reading my chapter book in which the main character, a runaway pony, was homesick and restless, and I felt completely the same way, though I hadn’t run away from home, nor was I in a stable eating straw.
You can’t be homesick when you are at home.
Well that was news to me, I thought homesick meant sick of home. I didn’t tell my mam though, as she was not always receptive to my ideas. I grew up in a household in which there were a lot of rules, from the only way to hang up the tea towel to what the correct opinion was on something. Instead, I concurred and said that I was just restless not homesick, to which she replied:
Don’t read in the dark you’ll ruin your eyes.
How was an eight-year old girl supposed to make sense of the world if she couldn’t read stories in the dark?
Years later, I think she was right as nowadays I need varifocals, though sadly even though I’ve read so much over the years, I still can’t make sense of the world. As for the rest, well the jury is still out, as lately, like back then, I’ve been waking up sick of home . My to-do list fills me with dread and I want to be somewhere else and then I get to yearning and feeling homesick, in that hiraeth way, for my old home where I lived with my mother and to which I can never return, as it is, like her, gone forever. And so it would seem that at home, I am, and can be, homesick and restless.
And yet, I love my home. I am lucky to live with three of the loveliest people I have ever met in my life. And, I have, over the years, met a lot of really lovely people. Sometimes though, I want to escape and have an afternoon like in the stories of Mr Benn and Mrs Pepperpot, the ones I loved reading as a child as they promised me as an adult I would have adventures in a magical wood or shop and then be home in time for tea.
Years ago when I was living in Lausanne, I met a woman on my way back from the airport. We got to chatting as neither one of us had baggage and yet we had gotten on at the airport stop. She was at that time much older than I am even now and was proud of her age:
Je trompes, she said.
By which she meant that dying her hair made people think she was much younger. However, she had felt old that day as some things had happened which weren’t good. So she had gone to the airport to watch the planes and changer des ideés (get a fresh perspective on things) because she had woken up full of dread and had fled (j’ai fuit), away from her thoughts. I had been to the airport to wave someone off but had lingered to get my hair done, the same hair now which is very grey, about which I have been wondering just lately if I should dye it in order to feel less old and tired. I guess I have my answer – it’s not my hair which is making me feel old, it’s the way I am feeling about the things going on in my life.
I’d not long been in Switzerland so it was the first time I had heard the phrase: Changer des ideés, in that context which put me in mind of being stuck in Scrabble and swapping all the tiles for a new set. In English, we change our minds, or have a change of heart in a way which seems methodical. The French approach seemed to be that we’d let our thoughts get on with it whilst and then reconvene with them later. I liked this alternative. She said the airport worked every time to get away from it all. I agreed as the smell of aeroplane fuel makes me forget everything in the excitement of possibility.
I discovered later on, that I only had to go to the Restaurant de la Gare at Lausanne train station and sit at one of the tables right by the window which look directly onto platform one. From there I would watch the trains pass through on their way to Paris, Zagreb, Rome, and I would feel that it was easy to be free.
I remembered my trainspotting the other day when deciding to use the still of Marigold Grand Central Station from Disney Pixar’s Coco at the top of this blog, as it is Halloween season so we’ve been watching spooky films in our house and Coco is one of our favourites. The still reminds me of all the train stations, I’ve hung around, which have always seemed so much bigger than they are because of what they represent in terms of places they can take me to physically and mentally, such as Lausanne and Munich, another total favourite of mine, and my oldest favourite and local Kings Cross Station.
I first got a train which pulled into Kings Cross Station when I was about 14 years old and I still get as excited today as I did then, pulling in or pulling out. Kings Cross is a gateway to the past, present, and future. It took me north for so many years, to my childhood home and my past, and I pass through it regularly in my present. Though due to lockdown, the last time I was on a train pulling back into Kings Cross was after my mother’s funeral, four years ago.
I remembering getting off the train and walking through the station, carrying the bouquet of red roses which had been on her coffin as people stepped aside to let us pass. Grief is tangible, recognisable and universal and from my experience, anyone whom it has touched will stop almost subconsciously even for the briefest moment and acknowledge its presence, and for that, that night, I was so grateful. Grateful that people had acknowledged my loss.
I dreamt of my mam, the other night. We were in a room with lots of other people. She looked young and excited as she talked about a New Year’s Eve party and she wanted my help to get ready.
But you are dead, I said.
So it would seem, she replied, and touched me gently on the face in that playful way she had.
In the background I saw my dad, and aunties and uncles, and other relatives who died before her and have died since her death. I followed her excited to see them all again, but woke up before I could get near them and wished I could have lingered in their presence a bit longer. I still have so many questions, unanswered. It felt like my own version of the Marigold Grand Central Station and I wonder, was my dream influenced by watching Coco?
My dad, spiritualist that he was, totally believed that dreams like that were visits to the Greater World. Either way, it was a comfort, and I like to think that I am starting to grow around the grief that felt all encompassing back at King’s Cross Station and I am beginning to appreciate that grief is just another form of love.
It would be nice, though wouldn’t it? If once a year, when the veil grows thin between the worlds, we could meet up with our loved ones long gone, to linger amongst the people who loved us until they took their very last breath.
Today, I woke up homesick and restless again, but then I remembered all the love I have known and all the people I’ve loved and loved me. I know that there’s no need to run away from home, even though I think fondly of the memory of me wishing momentarily for that runaway pony’s stable, for home is like hope and like love, and like the people I’ve loved, they are in my heart and wherever I go, they go with me, and that is a very comforting thought indeed.